Agitation, apathy, and fewer market pressures: not exactly things that make you feel like getting a job, right? But if you’re like most young people, this is the reality you face when considering a career.
To start, a lot of young people are upset with the world at large. COVID-19 created a lot of uncertainty, and after three years of it, you might be feeling burnt out. And you’re not alone: Over 50% of adults under 30 struggle with low motivation in the workplace.
This leads to apathy. Almost half of Gen Z'ers say the pandemic made it harder to achieve their school and career aspirations. Your skills, potential, and dreams were limited during the unprecedented crisis. It makes sense that you’re apprehensive about the future. After all, why would you put in effort just to get shut down again?
Finally, there are fewer market pressures. College tuition, apartments, schoolbooks, and other general living expenses are just too high. About 30 years ago, you could get a part-time job and pay for university. Now? There’s a total disconnect. When you’re paying thousands for your education, being a student is your full-time job.
All this fuels the ongoing anti-work movement. I get it: My experiences with corporate America during college left a sour taste in my mouth. But then I discovered something: No one needs to land the standard 9-to-5 job. You can gain the skills you need for growth without losing your agency. The key? Becoming your own career advocate.
How to Become Your Own Career Advocate
You know that you don’t have to follow the status quo, but you might not be sure what to look for in a career. My advice is to make curiosity your guiding principle. To become your own career advocate, you need to explore what exists.
What’s so powerful about optimizing yourself for maximum curiosity? Curiosity prompts you to try new things, which leads to mastery. According to research, curious employees find their work more meaningful and are more likely to demonstrate effectiveness.
To be curious, start saying “yes” when opportunities knock. For instance, is a friend asking you to volunteer with them? Say yes. You don’t have to do it twice, but you might find you enjoy serving others. Explore the world. The more things you do and the more information you absorb, the easier it will be to identify your career direction.
Here are four more ways you can cultivate curiosity:
1. Pursue independent education.
Researchers have found an intriguing correlation between self-directed learning and “openness.” What does this mean? If you pursue independent education, you’ll expose yourself to more opportunities. This can help you discover the best careers for you.
Some examples of independent education include checking out books at libraries, signing up for newsletters, and taking virtual classes. The goal should be to encounter a variety of skills, positions, industries, etc., so you’re prepared to make career decisions.
2. Join at least one community.
The internet has made it easy to find where you belong. In many cases, you don’t even need to traditionally “meet” people! Plenty of individuals lurk on forums to get a feel for the language groups use and the subjects they talk about. This is an excellent example of curiosity: You’re still learning even if you never contribute to the conversation.
Let’s say you start lurking on a crypto forum because you’re interested in currencies like bitcoin. You might not understand things at first, but you’ll eventually pick up the basics of crypto mining and trading. You never know when this information could come in handy later.
3. Practice the art of self-discipline.
We all have our favorite go-to activities, such as playing video games or scrolling through social media feeds. But if you want to cultivate curiosity and become your own career advocate, you must stop “defaulting” to your typical habits. You have to move toward your goals.
You might see your friends changing and think that you’re stagnant or inadequate. That’s not the case. Any moment can be an inflection point; you just need to practice self-discipline. For instance, if you want to eventually write a book, you must write every day. If you don’t, that book will never get written.
4. Get yourself a paid position.
Until you get paid for doing something, it’s just a hobby, so get curious about what you’re worth and stop giving away your talents. Turn what you love to do into a side gig. If it pans out, you’ll uncover a career option.
It can be difficult to determine what you’re worth when you first start. When I was 12, I told the woman living behind us that I’d mow her yard for free the first few times because I wasn’t very good. Thankfully, my mom reminded me that I’m still doing a job. Even if you’re only 15% better than someone else, you should still be paid. As you grow and evolve, you can determine whether your rates need to change accordingly.
Plenty of career opportunities are out there beyond the typical 9-to-5 corporate jobs. Become your best advocate by seeing where your curiosity leads you.